‘Man-made deaths’: ArtPrize entry connects COVID-19 to George Floyd

ArtPrize

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An entry into this year’s ArtPrize connects the hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 deaths with the death of George Floyd.

We will raise this wounded world — a tombstone-shaped wooden sculpture created by Steve Loar — presents the names of 1,000 people who died of COVID-19 alongside the names of people of color who died at the hands of the police.

“What I’m trying to get across with all of this is a fairly generalized statement of the fact that there are these deaths that have happened and that they’re man-made deaths,” Loar said.

The United States hit the gruesome milestone of 100,000 COVID-19 related deaths in May 2020. On May 24, the New York Times ran a front page story with a list of 1,000 people who died from COVID-19, each with that person’s name, age and a one-sentence obituary.

“U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, An Incalculable Loss,” the headline read.

On May 25, George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

Inspired by the events, Loar started working on his piece, which was initially titled Convergence.

He often works with pieces cast off by other artists. For this piece, he took a warped slab shipped to him by a fellow woodturner and set it upright to present some of the 1,000 names. On an overlaid piece, he placed an American flag — to show he is telling an American story — with images of other crises he described as “unattended”: pollution, anxiety, police barricades.

The final image: Another list of names, written in the same style.

“The final circle is a very short compilation of primarily men — but not totally men — of color who have died at the hands of police,” Loar said. “It doesn’t take much of an internet search to get an appalling list of people who have died.”

“They’re both man-made catastrophes. The COVID deaths could have been apparently limited to just the 100,000 if we had followed some direction,” Loar added.

He hopes his audience walks away knowing how real the deaths are.

“I would love for them to get the fact that there are all these issues coming together,” Loar said. “If nothing else, I would like them to see the obituaries for what they are.”

The title of his piece, We will raise this wounded world, comes from Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb.” It reads in part:

“Our blunders become their burdens.

“But one thing is certain.

“If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.

“So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.

“Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.”

Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”

“Her essay was kind of brutal and matter-of-fact about events, but also offered up the hope that we as humanity have the ability to change these things and hopefully improve them,” Loar said. “We’re a wounded nation, but we can hopefully get up again.”

Loar, from East Grand Rapids, has been turning wood since the late 1970s. He taught woodturning as a professor for more than three decades. This is his third ArtPrize.

His entry can be seen during ArtPrize at Fountain Street Church, located at 24 Fountain St.

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